The Null Device

2000/8/30

Stupid is as stupid does: In Britain, a mob attacked a paediatrician's home, because they confused the words "paediatrician" and "paedophile". (via Leviathan)

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Great Cthulhu is getting restless: An unexpected earthquake hit Melbourne this evening (about 15 minutes ago). This one was minor, but there may be aftershocks.

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News Update: Sherril Babcock, who was blocked from website blackplanet.com because of her obscene surname, has finally managed to register -- using the alias "Babpenis", which the site's diligent censorware somehow let slip through.

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And now for a story: at Monash University, where I studied, there was (and still is) an instant messaging system named goofey. Goofey is, in some ways, like ICQ or AIM, only it has been around since the early 1990s and it has a number of other geeky features such as fortunes and a copy of the jargon file. It has several hundred users (there are 166 logins now, on a weekday afternoon), both at Monash and elsewhere. (It is accessible from anywhere on the Internet, and anyone with a UNIX-like machine can download the source and use it.)

Many years ago, before the scientific miracle of the Web allowed bored undergraduates to download South Park episodes and check sports scores, the more geeky among them would spend their lunch breaks in computer labs, logged into a glacially slow shared UNIX machine, chatting, reading USENET and playing nethack (or whatever). Many of them soon got onto goofey and used it to chat with friends (and some of them still do, despite not having seen their university friends for years). And, as anyone who has been in such an environment can tell you, users with obviously female names would get bombarded with messages from overexcited male geeks without social skills.

One enterprising goofey user (a postgraduate at Griffith University in Queensland, if I remember correctly) decided to take advantage of this phenomenon and have a bit of fun. So he found a copy of Eliza (you know, the program which attempts to hold a conversation), modified it a bit so that it looked more like a female student and less like a psychiatrist, and put it on goofey with the screenname cathy. As one would expect, a lot of people started chatting up cathy, sometimes spending two hours doing so. Some (later on) were people in on the joke, and others were clueless male geeks who presumably hadn't spoken to enough real women to know the difference.

cathy is no more; she was wiped out when the computer used in the experiment died, many years ago. However, it was quite an amusing prank.

So what brought on this nostalgiafest? Well, it turns out that someone else has had the same idea, and done something similar for AOL Instant Messenger. He doesn't seem to have modified the responses much though.

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"We will block Napster at your phone company, we will firewall it at your PC" After a Sony staffer provoked outrage from computer users by laying out an Orwellian revenue-protection plan to block file sharing at all levels, Sony have reacted by distancing themselves from the plans (as you would expect any PR-sensitive corporation to do). Mind you, they don't actually say the comments are incorrect, just that they were quoted out of context.

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Sample news: Ex-Amiga tracker d00d and renowned game-music composer Bjorn Lynne is selling a CD-ROM of instrument samples, for only US$19. It contains samples in a variety of genres, and looks like quite good value for money.

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Dolphins evolve opposable thumbs. `Oh, Shit', says humanity.

"Last Friday, a crude seaweed-and-shell abacus washed up on the beach near Hilo, Hawaii. The next day, a far more sophisticated abacus, fashioned from some unknown material and capable of calculating equations involving numbers of up to 16 digits, washed up on the same beach. The day after that, the beach was littered with thousands of what turned out to be coral-silicate and kelp-based biomicrocircuitry."

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The Atlantic Monthly has a typically insightful piece on the present and future of the music industry and the Internet.

21809

After one plague year off, they managed to hold Eurovision this year in Rotterdam, with social-distancing protocols in place and contestants prerecording videos and self-isolating if they didn't test negative.

The winner this year was Italy, who had a group of grungy-looking young dudes with tattoos and slicked-back hair playing some alternative rock like it's the 90s again; the vibe was four parts dive bar to one part Jim Rose sideshow; in any case, they were in the top 5 with the juries, and catapulted to #1 by the public vote. Not my top pick, but a fair cop, and more inspiring than the runner-up, Switzerland (who won the juries, but appeared too forgettable for the public), or arguably France (who seemed sweet and earnest though not quite up to her Piaf-esque number).

My choices were Iceland, Germany, Finland and Lithuania, not necessarily in that order. Iceland's entry, a slab of jittery electrofunk with pixel-art aesthetics and a routine with semicircular keytars, came a respectable third, giving hope that we may yet see Eurovision go to Reykjavík. Germany had a chap named Jendrik, whose name suggests an Aldi version of Jedward, strumming a ukulele and singing a song titled I Don't Feel Hate, on a pastel-coloured set with a number of dancers including one costumed as a hand sticking its middle finger up. It was a bit silly, though fun and well done; unfortunately for them, the audience didn't share its sentiment, giving it 0 points on top of the 3 from the juries. Finland also did hard rock with an industrial edge, though perhaps their mistake was leaving the monster costumes at home, which let Italy's brand of rock get the charisma edge, leaving them at #5. And Lithuania did a competent minimal-house number almost industrial in places, with the clever touch of it being about dancing alone, a relatable theme in the Ronacene; they came 8th.

There were other contestants worthy of note. Belgium brought the late-90s trip-hop-adjacent chillout crew Hooverphonic out of retirement, playing an all live set, with not a breakbeat or a rompler-based epiano patch in sight. Cyprus had famously offended their local religiots with some mild Satanic themes in what was an otherwise generic piece of Gaga-lite eurodance. Israel brought some tasteful Mark Ronson-esque electrofunk, which, at a different time, might have done better. Russia brought a song railing against sexism, which was probably as rebellious as they could get away with (Dad: "We have Pussy Riot at home"). Malta did respectably well with a Shakira-meets-Gnarls-Barkley number with extra sass. Greece's visuals promised a glitch aesthetics which their sound didn't deliver (and it's not hard; we've had vaporwave for over a decade, and surely some must have filtered down to the Eurovision plane by now). Bulgaria had a rather nice song in a somewhat Phoebe Bridgers vein, Ukraine went cyber-Slavic, Azerbaijan had a Middle Eastern-styled club banger titled Mata Hari that you know will be booming out of car stereos at kebab o'clock all summer, and Norway's entry looked like the writing session was a game of Telephone which started with “let's do something like Robbie Williams' ‘Angels’”; i.e., a bit of a mess, albeit technically well executed. The Dutch entry was a bit cringeworthy, coming across like every postcolonial struggle distilled into a high-concept perfume commercial. Meanwhile, plucky little San Marino managed to get the American rapper Flo Rida to do a guest verse, though it didn't get them anywhere.

Sweden's entry was competent though unexciting, which is arguably not entirely an un-Swedish thing to be. Australia failed to make it through to the final this year, for the first time since being admitted as a participant. As for the UK, the less said the better. It wasn't their worst entry in recent years by far; it didn't look like a routine by the resident entertainment crew at a second-tier Butlins, for one, and wasn't an egregious show of contempt for Johnny Foreigner and his silly song contest, and the performer looked like an agreeable sort of chap you could have a drink or a board game with. All that was immaterial, though, as Britain, and Britain alone, got nul points from both the juries and the audiences. Presumably by now Britain's pariah status is so ingrained that they have a decade of rock-bottom results baked in no matter what they do, and so it becomes debatable whether there is any point in sending someone to 2022 to receive the annual ritual humiliation. Perhaps an independent Scottish entry will fare better (and one knows an independent Welsh one would, should this ever happen).

Anyway, it looks like it's in Rome next year.

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I just did the the Religion Selector, a web questionnaire which attempts to find which belief system one is closest to, based on a few questions on ethical and eschatological outlook. It says my nearest belief system is Unitarian Universalism, followed by Humanism and Theravada Buddhism; the equal furthest are Eastern Orthodox, Islam, Roman Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. Of course, being a web toy, this should be taken with a grain of salt...

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